The Christian And Self-Esteem

Positive Addiction, by William Glasser (Harper & Row, 1976, 152 pp., $6.95), Love Yourself, by Walter Trobisch (InterVarsity, 1976, 55 pp., $1.50 pb), The Sensation of Being Somebody, by Maurice E. Wagner (Zondervan, 251 pp., $6.95), If You Really Knew Me Would You Still Like Me?, by Eugene Kennedy (Argus, 1975, 118 pp., $1.95 pb), Hide and Seek, by James Dobson (Revell, 1974, 159 pp., $4.95), and Communication: Key to Your Marriage, by H. Norman Wright (Regal, 1974, 194 pp., $1.95 pb), are reviewed by Elizabeth Skoglund, counselor, Burbank, California.

In this post-Freudian era of psychotherapy, a large number of therapeutic approaches other than psychoanalysis have appeared on the scene. Psychotherapy is gradually becoming more acceptable within Christian thinking, partly since many of these more recent forms do not have the strong anti-God effect of the teachings of Freud. Also, some of these newer techniques work, while all too often psychoanalysis does not.

The importance of a good self-image is increasingly being stressed in psychological theory. This concept is becoming acceptable to Christians. Many formerly would have rejected the idea that one could or should love himself. But self-acceptance is clearly a Christian teaching: Christ himself commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves; and God is a God of truth, not wanting his followers to view themselves as either better or worse than they actually are.

One of the most effective bridges joining psychotherapy and the concept of self-worth to the Church has been the writing of psychiatrist William Glasser: Reality Therapy, Schools Without Failure, The Identity Society, and most recently Positive Addiction. In his practical approach to psychotherapy, Glasser connects self-acceptance with relationships and encourages responsible behavior as basic to a good self-image. This Christians can accept, and so he has made deep inroads among Christians.

In Positive Addiction Glasser again refuses the cop-out of some forms of psychotherapy that blame the past and emphasize insight. Instead Glasser uses words like “weak” and “strong” in describing people’s behavior, implying that they are not just victims of circumstances but human beings who can choose to change. He insists they are capable of becoming stronger, of developing a better self-image. The idea of becoming positively addicted to something is offered as one way to gain strength psychologically. A major portion of the book deals with various types of positive addiction and how this addiction can increase creative thinking and help us “develop the mental wherewithal to handle new, unexpected, and possibly overwhelming stresses and strains.” In general, Glasser’s books are very valuable reading for the Christian who wants to understand the concept of self-image.

Article continues below

From a totally Christian perspective, Walter Trobisch does a superb job of relating a good self-image to sound biblical theology in Love Yourself: Self Acceptance and Depression. Although I think he becomes a little simplistic in discussing abortion, Trobisch deals sensitively and directly with matters like acceptance of one’s physical body, self-acceptance versus self-centeredness, and Christianity as it relates to emotional problems. He encourages Christians to work toward feelings of self-worth and shows some practical steps to take.

His discussion of depression is particularly compassionate and uplifting. In contrast to a barrage of current writing that over-spiritualizes feelings of depression, Trobisch states: “We do not need to be ashamed of them. They are no flaws in our make-up or a discredit to the name ‘Christian.’ ”

Love Yourself is intellectually stimulating, psychologically sound, and spiritually uplifting. Reading it in conjunction with some of Glasser’s more lengthy discussions, most Christians could gain a good understanding of self-image and how to develop a good one.

Wagner’s The Sensation of Being Somebody is detailed and is written in a style that at times seems more cumbersome than profound. While the author draws upon his clinical experience as a counselor, his emphasis is on spiritual solutions for problems of self-esteem. His organized approach to the problem and his wealth of scriptural references have their value, and his book should be read by those wanting a more involved study of the Christian and self-esteem.

If You Really Knew Me Would You Still Like Me? by Eugene Kennedy is, in contrast to Wagner’s book, light and easy to read. However, if Wagner tends to over-spiritualize, Kennedy seems to ignore that dimension. His clear delineation of self-esteem problems and his encouragement of people to accept themselves are valuable. But he does not present solutions in much detail.

Hide and Seek by James Dobson deals with self-esteem in children. The book is well written and attractive in style. Dobson is specific in his advice on how to generate a good self-image in a child, and he balances the spiritual and psychological sides of the problem. Hide and Seek can probably do more to help parents prevent their children from developing problems of self-esteem than to help cure them once they occur.

Article continues below

Finally, H. Norman Wright in Communication: Key to Your Marriage devotes one long chapter (“Communicate to Build Self Esteem”) to building self-worth in a marriage. He writes appealingly and gives numerous practical suggestions. The potential for each marital partner to contribute to the self-esteem of the other is brought out here. The self-image of the partners is very important in the marital relationship and is wisely included in this book on communication in marriage.

One hopes writers of books of popular psychology will increasingly seek to take into account spiritual, psychological, and physical needs. There is a danger in over-spiritualization, but Christian writers are equally remiss if they over-psychologize at the expense of the spiritual.

Biblical Norms And Ethical Behavior

Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life, by Bruce C. Birch and Larry L. Rasmussen (Augsburg, 1976, 221 pp., $8.95, $4.95 pb), is reviewed by Allen Verhey, assistant professor of religion, Hope College, Holland, Michigan.

Most Christians—surely all evangelical Christians—acknowledge the authority of Scripture for the Christian life. But that confession does not settle the perplexing problems of how it is authoritative, what this source may and should provide for the Christian community’s moral discernment, and the connections between Scripture and ethics. It is surprising that so little literature describes the functional relation between the Bible and ethics. This volume does exactly that—very well.

Earlier books jointly written by a biblical scholar and an ethicist have usually followed this pattern: the biblical scholar describes some important biblical theme or principle that the ethicist subsequently applies to a range of moral questions. The primary concern of the Birch and Rasmussen book is neither to describe the ethics of the Scriptures nor to offer normative replies to the moral questions raised by the Christian community today. The intention is rather one of describing, of judging, and of recommending certain connections between the Bible and ethics in the Christian life. The exegesis and ethical reflection along the way are basically illustrative and subordinated to the main intention; nevertheless, they are excellent. For example, the exegetical treatment of “you always have the poor with you” and the ethical analysis of world hunger not only help to illustrate possible connections between Scripture and ethics but are important and suggestive in their own right.

Article continues below

The introductory chapter describes the current relation between the Bible and ethics and challenges both biblical scholars and ethicists to do their work within a recognition of the Scriptures as canon and within the context of the Church. The rest of their book may be seen as the authors’ own attempt to meet this challenge. The challenge enlists not just scholars, however, but the whole Church; therefore, the churches are urged to recover their identity in the Bible and to acknowledge their corporate responsibility for discernment and action.

A second chapter skillfully surveys the literature directly concerned with the relation between Scripture and Christian ethics. This brief description of the work of others is used to raise and clarify the questions that must be answered, thereby setting the agenda for the rest of the book.

The first item on that agenda, the nature and scope of Christian ethics, is taken up in the third chapter. The authors quite rightly claim that a methodology for relating Scripture to ethics can be comprehensive only if the whole range of concerns of Christian ethics is understood. And they insist that character formation is just as important as decision-making, that the good person is as important a concern of ethics as right action. They contend that the Bible ought to have a major role in both, but they acknowledge that the two roles will be different. In the formation of character, of the faith, perception, disposition, and intentions that give identity, the whole Bible can and should have a primary role. The use of Scripture to form character must be guarded against “genre reductionism,” the selection of only certain kinds of biblical materials as relevant to ethics. The place to start is not with a selection of texts but rather “with the Bible in the life of the Church as a gathered community.”

The Bible has an important role in decision-making as well, and Birch and Rasmussen suggest several kinds of connections. Scripture is relevant to all the components of decision-making: to our perspective when we analyze situations, to the standards we use, even to the process of decision-making (without prescribing a certain procedure) and to moral imagination. But here—in contrast to character formation—the starting point is the moral issue, and particular texts that address the issue or illuminate the situation must be selected. But the canon and the Church continue to function as criteria. The full range of canonical materials, not just that selection which fits our pre-judgment, must be allowed to inform our decision-making, and other authorities must be given due consideration.

Article continues below

Birch and Rasmussen have insisted that the Church is the community for making the connections between Bible and ethics. In the fourth chapter they focus on the Church. They do not limit that focus to the Church’s moral pronouncements, a matter that has truncated many other moralists’ discussions of the Church. They are more concerned with the Church as “a shaper of moral identity,” “a bearer of moral tradition,” and “a community of moral deliberation.” These three functions and the place or role of Scripture in each are helpfully explicated.

In the fifth chapter the authors clarify the nature and extent of the authority of Scripture, especially in relation to other “authorities.” They reject any rigid formulation of biblical authority that would pretend that the Church can do ethics or live its life on the basis of Scripture alone. And they equally reject any relativizing of biblical authority that would pretend that Christian ethics could be done or that the Christian life could be lived without a primary and constant relation to Scripture. They suggest “a dialogue relationship of biblical material with non-biblical material in moral judgment” in which the Bible is the primary, constant, and necessary source, without depreciating other sources and without relieving us of the responsibility for decision. In character formation the authority of the Bible functions substantively on its own and transformationally vis à vis other sources of moral development. In decision-making the authority of the Bible is sometimes substantive, being the source of moral imperatives, but sometimes not, when either there is no single biblical position or the issue is not directly addressed in Scripture. Then biblical authority rests at another level, either in the range of biblical positions or in a more general principle or in the character formed by the Bible.

In chapter six Birch and Rasmussen suggest how Scripture can be made available again as an ethical resource. And just as they resist the churches’ forfeiting their responsibility for moral decision to their ethicists, so they oppose the churches’ forfeiting their responsibility to interpret Scripture to their biblical scholars. They contend not only that a mastery of basic exegetical skills is possible for any serious inquirer but also that such competence is necessary to preserve the Church’s Christian identity in the midst of the moral challenges of our time. Only with such exegesis (and they helpfully lay out the process of exegesis) can the biblical materials in their integrity and variety confront our moral concerns. The intention is not a mechanistic application of Scripture but “dialogue.” But without careful exegesis, appeal to Scripture can be purely rationalizing, in which one picks and chooses the texts that confirm one’s prejudices.

Article continues below

Careful exegesis within the context of the whole canon and within the Church provides the “control,” the assurance that the Bible is not being merely “used” but heard. Without denying that subjective judgments play a part in the selection and interpretation of Scripture—in fact, they affirm it with their “dialogic” understanding of the connection between Scripture and contemporary ethical concerns—Birch and Rasmussen have by “the canon criterion” placed an important limit on arbitrarily subjective or rationalizing appeals to Scripture. And, while recognizing and affirming the authority of Scripture, they have by the same criterion challenged the absolutizing of isolated texts.

The matter is critically important. So is the book, for it makes an important contribution to the churches’ ability to connect contemporary moral life with the rich fund of biblical resources. That is no small contribution to the greater goal of strengthening the churches’ life and witness.

How Is The Bible Actually Used?

The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, by David Kelsey (Fortress, 1975, 216 pp., $11.95), is reviewed by Carl F. H. Henry, lecturer-at-large, World Vision, Monrovia, California.

Contemporary theologians appeal to the Bible in many ways to claim scriptural legitimacy for disparate views. For this reason Kelsey’s discussion of the authority and normativity of Scripture is both timely and significant. It has four-fold importance.

First, it reverses the approach of neo-Protestant theologians who repudiate scriptural authority while elaborating professedly Christian theology. Second, it exhibits the divergent uses made of Scripture by recent theologians who abandon the evangelical appeal to authoritative biblical texts and truths. Third, without immediately channeling the discussion concerning the relevance of the Bible into claims about inerrancy or even inspiration, it focuses on the issue of scriptural authority as a larger concern. Finally, it affirms scriptural authority only in a functional sense as an alternative to objective textual inspiration and in this way extends the revolt against the propositional trustworthiness of the Bible while professing to preserve biblical authority in the highest sense.

Article continues below

The first section of the book (half the volume) focuses on the views of seven twentieth-century theologians: B. B. Warfield, Hans-Werner Bartsch, G. E. Wright, Karl Barth, L. S. Thornton, Paul Tillich, and Rudolf Bultmann, Four questions are asked of each: (1) What aspect of Scripture is authoritative? (2) What makes it authoritative? (3) What logical force has it? (4) How does it bear on theological affirmations so as to authorize them?

Warfield and Bartsch emphasize what Scripture teaches—the former the doctrinal content, the latter its concepts or main ideas. Wright and Barth stress rather what Scripture reports, whether its recital of God’s mighty historical acts (Wright), or its rendering of God’s personal presence (Barth). Thornton, Tillich, and Bultmann invoke images, symbols of myths that provide the occasion for a revelatory redemptive event. These are considered representative but not necessarily exhaustive of the ways theologians appeal to the Bible. All appeal to scriptural authority, but they differ in what they mean.

Looked at more closely, Warfield champions the classic Christian view that the content of the Bible—what it teaches—is authoritative. Bartsch too comes down on the side of authoritative biblical content but in a more limited way, regarding distinctive concepts as revelatory rather than affirming, with Warfield, plenary inspiration. Wright disavows doctrinal or propositional disclosure: Scripture is rather a record of God’s redemptive acts, from which knowledge about God is to be inferred.

For Barth, Scripture is a fallible witness through which God in Christ personally encounters the trusting reader or hearer. Scripture is authoritative not because it communicates divinely given information about God and his ways but because “it provides our normative link with God’s self-disclosure.” The Bible authorizes theological proposals only indirectly, as a pointer to the central revelational reality, Jesus Christ, who encounters us in Scripture. Barth is therefore a watershed for modern theology, since he understands scriptural authority in functional terms.

Article continues below

This functional use of Scripture as authority is further exemplified by scholars who professedly discern in the Bible some particular feature—images, symbols, or myth—held to be expressive of a revelatory event. The semantic signal that links the believing reader with an inner revelatory event where he becomes a new creature is found in the Bible’s literary symbolism rather than in a collection of revealed doctrines or a report of external happenings accessible to historians. Kelsey considers Thornton, Tillich, and Bultmann as illustrative of this approach.

Kelsey does not, however, end with merely an instructive survey of the different ways and purposes that mark these seven modern theologians’ appeals to the biblical text. Although he offers no programmatic essay concerning the correct approach to the Scriptures, his comments are laden with implications concerning the essence of Christianity, and what he writes about revelation and Scripture has the structure of an argument.

In “the unprecedented theological pluralism marking the neo-orthodox era” Kelsey refuses to see a sign of “breakdown in consensus about the nature and task of theology.” Although he concedes that the divergent ways in which contemporary theologians claim scriptural legitimacy for their theological proposals blur the conception of authority, he disagrees with those who contend that negative criticism of the canon and its content makes it “impossible to use the texts as authority in theology.” Loss of the Bible as a theologically unified, canonical authority, Kelsey insists, does not jeopardize scriptural authority.

How then is biblical authority to be conserved? The answer lies in redefining the terms “canon” and “authority.” The divergent views of modern theologians can all be squared with the authority of Scripture if we rid ourselves of the conception of biblical authority held by B. B. Warfield and other evangelical Protestants. To rescue biblical authority Kelsey ventures specific proposals that, in effect, erode the standard evangelical view of Scripture and advance an alternative.

The author denies that there is any truly normative meaning of biblical authority. He appeals to the diverse usage that modern theologians make of Scripture and insists that “there is no one ‘standard’ concept ‘scripture.’ ” “The suggestion that scripture might serve as a final court of appeals for theological disputes is misleading.” The logical consequence of this, one would think, would be an open and unapologetic repudiation of scriptural authority. But this is not the case.

Article continues below

For the traditional view of the Bible as a divinely inspired source of revealed truths Kelsey would substitute a functional view oriented to the life of the Church, correlating Scripture and its authority with the concerns of the believing community and individual. He writes: “The ‘authority of scripture’ has the status of a postulate assumed in the doing of theology in the context of the practice of the common life of a Christian community in which ‘church’ is understood in a certain way.” In his opinion, “Scripture” is not to be identified with the whole Bible, nor is any of the Bible to be considered “Scripture” or authoritative except in a functional sense.

Kelsey dismisses as meaningless any effort to establish “standards by which to decide when a ‘theological position’ really accords with Scripture.” His stance is basically existential, and his emphasis is on “an imaginative act in which a theologian tries to catch up in a single metaphorical judgment the full complexity of God’s presence in, through and over against the church’s common life and which both … provides the discrimen” whereby theology criticizes the Church’s current witness and “determines” the distinctive shape of theological proposals. This excludes in advance the understanding of Scripture on its own terms. It prevents the author’s taking seriously the view that the inspired Scriptures provide a body of divinely guaranteed truths to which all creative theology is answerable and that Scripture is the objective norm to which all the Church’s truth claims are to be conformed.

Kelsey repudiates the view that there is a “conceptual continuity, if not identity, between what scripture says and what theological proposals say.” Since he approves discontinuity between Scripture and theological proposals and admits scriptural authorization only by indirect appeals, “scriptural normativity” for him involves the dispensability of any and all logical continuity between Scripture and theology. Scripture is normative authority not because it preserves an unchanging content but because it serves as the starting point and model for theological elaboration. It is “relevant” to theological proposals but not “decisive” for them. Thus Kelsey approves of the reinterpretation of what the Bible says, as by Tillich and Bultmann, “in different concepts.” In short, he spurns the view that “meaning has only one meaning” and that the biblical texts have but one meaning that theological proposals are to reproduce in order to be scripturally authorized.

Article continues below

The epistemological relativity underlying this notion dissolves not only any fixed meaning for Kelsey’s own proposals concerning normativity, authority, and Scripture but also whatever fixed meaning he would attach to meaning itself under any circumstances. It therefore reduces theology to an intricate exercise in futility and nonsense.

The historic alternative to the functionalist notion of normativity does not at all, contrary to Kelsey, “beg the root questions” of “what ‘scripture’ and ‘authority’ are to mean.” Rather, it is Kelsey’s view of multiplied meanings that precludes attaching any definite sense to them. For all its usefulness, Kelsey’s volume does not help us much with the overarching concern of the transcendent truth of the Christian religion. And one may question whether Christian truth is served better by a redefinition than by a repudiation of its classic concepts if one no longer finds these palatable.

Briefly Noted

Marriages face a barrage of advice from “experts” on all sides. The institution is being attacked as never before. The divorce rate is at an all-time high. Christians, even though they believe that only within marriage can an emotional, sexual, and spiritual relationship between a man and woman be properly developed, are not immune to the problems of the age. Topics such as submission, communication, and sex are discussed with different emphases in various recent books. Maximum Marriage by Tim Timmons (Revell, 126 pp., $4.95) discusses the overall biblical plan for an enriching marriage. If you have ever had a confrontation over a burnt roast, or a lively discussion on “What did you do all day?,” then Timmons’s down-to-earth anecdotes will speak to you where you are. Through these examples he discusses complex biblical concepts such as submission in a very practical way. Thoroughly Married by Dennis Guernsey (Word, 144 pp., $4.95) focuses on sexual intimacy in marriage. God’s plan for marriage provides for a healthy sex life within the bounds of a biblical union. Distortions in verbal communication are discussed in a technical rather than biblical sense in Do You Hear Me Honey? by John W. Drakeford (Harper & Row, 174 pp., $3.95 pb). Particularly helpful is the development of the “pendulum concept”: in the swing of conversation, one is forced to a more radical opinion in order to balance the criticism of a partner. The “Over to You” section at the end of each chapter allows the reader to integrate the material for personal effectiveness. Bernard Harnik is a Swiss physician and counselor who has worked closely with Paul Tournier in an intense commitment to minister to the whole person. Harnik’s book, Risk and Chance in Marriage (Word, 178 pp., $3.50 pb), is noteworthy for its clarity and for the depth of the author’s understanding of what motivates marital habits and patterns. Men and women are not simplified into characters who are easily molded into matrimonial bliss. Maturation in marriage comes through crisis. Harnik examines many complex problems in the form of stories or case studies from his counseling experience. He sees parenthood as increasing the chances of stability in the household. This is an important point in view of the growing number of couples choosing not to have children. Three to Get Ready by John Quesnell (Liturgical Press, 150 pp., $2.95 pb), is written for the engaged couple and takes a serious look at what a Christian marriage encompasses from the theological perspective of Catholicism. If you want some practical exercises rather than merely information about the ingredients of a successful marriage, try I Count, You Count by George Caldin (Argus, 200 pp., $3.95 pb). This is a self-help book in which the author intends to function as the reader’s counselor. The possible danger in all these books is that they provide insights into marriage that a person might use to judge his or her partner. The better way to use them is to begin by applying them to oneself rather than trying to force one’s spouse to change.

Article continues below

Francis Andersen’s commentary on Job (InterVarsity, 294 pp., $7.95) is the latest addition to the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series. It is based on careful scholarship and certainly holds its own among the finest works on this powerful and enigmatic portion of Scripture.

The Christian Association for Psychological Studies is a growing group of evangelicals in psychology-related professions. A dozen of the papers presented at their Milwaukee convention are now available from them under the title Self Esteem edited by Craig Ellison (27000 Farmington Rd, Farmington Hills, Mich. 48024, 134 pp., $4.20 pb). Sample titles: “Self-Image and Self-Esteem,” “Some Social Aspects of the Self-Concept,” “Self-Esteem and the Classroom.” This volume is intended to launch a series, Christian Perspectives on Counseling and the Behavioral Sciences.

The field that scholars call “New Testament introduction” is misnamed. Rather than introduce the student to the New Testament, the subject offers an overview of what scholars have written about the New Testament. (Admittedly this is intended as an aid to serious study of the sources.) The subject is often deadly dull, and students who take such courses rarely find them of much value in later years. But “dull” is one adjective that could never be applied to the indefatigable Glasgow professor William Barclay. His two latest books, Introduction to the First Three Gospels and Introduction to John and the Acts (Westminster, 303 and 341 pp., $5.95 each pb), provide “introductions” to the first half of the New Testament in as interesting a fashion as possible. The first is an expanded revision of an earlier book, the second is entirely new. Barclay does not answer all the questions—not necessarily a fault—but he does present the most readable survey currently available. Both volumes are warmly commended to pastors who wish to review what they were taught in seminary while catching up on what scholars have been talking about lately, to laymen who want an introduction to scholarly research on the New Testament, and to college and seminary teachers who would like to liven up their lectures to their students.

Article continues below

Unbounded Love by Norman Pittenger (Seabury, 115 pp., $3.95 pb) dissolves historic Christian doctrines into vague sentimentalities under the guise of restating them in terms of “process philosophy.”

Various Kinds Of Congregations

The House Church, by Philip and Phoebe Anderson (Abingdon, 1975, 173 pp., $4.50 pb), The Small Church: Valid, Vital, Victorious, by Paul O. Madsen (Judson, 1975, 126 pp., $3.95 pb), and Hey, That’s Our Church!, by Lyle E. Schaller (Abingdon, 1975, 192 pp., $4.50 pb), are reviewed by Philip Siddons, pastor, Wright’s Corner United Presbyterian Church, Lockport, New York.

Not all successful churches are several-hundred-member suburban congregations. Three recent books focus on various other kinds.

The House Church deals exclusively with churches that meet informally in homes. The Andersons reflect that “only now and then does a person have an experience in the [conventional] church of unremitting, unconditional love.” And perhaps stronger: “The institutional form for the experience of love, which was authentic for previous generations, has become wooden and binding and inhibiting, even irrelevant to many Christians in the twentieth century.” The house church is proposed as the solution to the conventional church’s inability to provide loving and caring communities.

Article continues below

The particular house church described grew out of a weekend encounter group conducted by a trained Christian leader. The authors’ main premise is that “the experience of an individual is absolute.” Since “the ground of all theology is personal experience,” the emphasis is almost entirely on people “getting themselves together, both within themselves and in their relationships.” This apparent disdain for creeds and theology may run against the grain of those of Reformed orientation in theology. Central to orthodox Christianity is its emphasis on God as subject, addressing humanity as object. We as fallen creation find ourselves unable to find a way out of “the ugly ditch” through either our experience or our reason alone.

Undeniably, sharing to enable people to “let go” is greatly needed in churches today. The person in the pew needs honest dialogue and sharing. One’s faith is dead if it is not intimately coordinated with one’s experiences. But the balance of faith and work, of theology and experience, must be guarded.

The House Church could have been entitled “A Pocket Guide For Christian Encounter Groups.” It provides helpful suggestions and rules for running small groups. The hard question of what to do with the children might have been dealt with at greater length. Questions like “Whose turn is it to teach the children’s Sunday-school class?” and “Who is going to write the junior sermons for the children’s worship time?” must be answered eventually by all house churches.

The small church is usually considered to be something that is not yet (if it ever will be) a “success,” according to Paul Madsen. So in The Small Church he tries to establish an identifiable character for the typical small church (no more than two hundred members). Rightly he emphasizes that it is not numbers but spiritual growth that is important. Because at least 40 per cent of the churches fit into the “small” category, Madsen feels that they should be specially studied.

The Small Church has to do with advantages, problems, and solutions to the problems in a small church. The problems mentioned generally have to do with poor planning, poor programs, or poorly trained ministers. The author’s suggestions for improvements are salted with examples of specific churches that simply acquired better planning, better programs, and better ministers. If small churches were more open to new people and had a “try it” attitude, the author suggests, things would be better.

Article continues below

In short, The Small Church attempts to capture a seemingly universal character of the small church but ends only with scattered success stories of particular congregations. It offers little for church leaders to work with other than some general operating principles. Perhaps the best advice in the book is the suggestion that the small church set aside its feelings of autonomy and take advantage of its denomination’s resource people and facilities.

What is perhaps lacking in these two books is more than made up in Schaller’s Hey, That’s Our Church! Putting together a collection of articles he has written during the past few years, Schaller provides a perspective on most types of church structures functioning today. Schaller points out that those who analyze churches often make the mistake of characterizing a congregation merely by its size and geographical distribution. Instead, parish leaders should study their church in terms of the specific economic and sociological community in which its members exist.

The first six chapters describe six types of congregations. The last three chapters deal more with the vision and growth of churches in general, and suggest guidelines for planning goals.

The organized church at large has failed, says Schaller, because it has tried to be one thing to all people. A church in the seventies and eighties must concentrate on specialized ministries, tailored to the specific community it addresses.

A church must define its theological and sociological positions clearly. When it does that, it can move toward wholeness and greater relevance in its ministry. Hey, That’s Our Church! is a very useful tool for church leaders.

The Apostles’ Horoscopes

Yesterday, Today, and Forever, by Jeane Dixon (Morrow, 1976, 439 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Nell L. Kennedy, missionary, Kanagawa Ken, Japan.

A new book by widely acclaimed “seer” Jeane Dixon has made its way to the shelves of various Christian bookstores. Subtitled “How Astrology Can Help You Find Your Place in God’s Plan,” the book attempts to explain away some of the godly characteristics of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

Although she does not claim to know the birthdate of each apostle, Dixon describes each of them in terms of a sign in the zodiac. “Each astrological sign has all the traits of a specific apostle,” she says. By learning the traits of your sign and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your apostle, you supposedly can “gain revealing insights into your life, problems and plans for the future.”

Article continues below

For instance, those born under the sign Aries, between March 21 and April 19, have the same characteristics as the Apostle Peter, she says. “Peter was a diamond in the rough, headstrong, impulsive and aggressive,” a perfect reflection of his astrological sign of Aries the Ram. “Ariens learn quickly and are not too proud to admit their mistakes. Peter was once rebuked by Christ for his bluntness and Peter replied, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ ” Dixon thus dares to assert that Peter’s sin was merely the Arien trait of being overly eager to get things moving.

Following Aries in the zodiac calendar, the sign of Taurus is given to the Apostle Simon the Zealot, said to be patriotic and loyal. And so on, through the other ten.

Yesterday, Today, and Forever is a destructive book that is in direct disobedience of Jeremiah 10:2—“Thus saith the LORD, learn not the way of the heathen; and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.”

New Periodical

Pastoral Renewal was launched in July by the Word of God Community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a charismatically oriented fellowship of Catholics and Protestants. It is intended to provide help for pastoral leaders (whether clergy or laymen) in congregations and prayer groups. Monthly, no subscription price; donations welcome (Box 617, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48107).

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.